Books That Have You Covered by Deb Tiffany


The first book that I would say really changed my life is Joyce’s Ulysses. I didn’t read it because I wanted to. I was in graduate school, and was taking a course. At first, I hated it. The writing is lugubrious in places. You need companion texts just to understand the damn thing. And for all those pages, not all that much really happens. But something happened to me. I started to feel like I’d fallen into a movie or something. I’d never read a book that was so vivid before, so minute, and both so mannered but also absolutely real. If you look at pictures of turn-of-the-century Dublin, you see how well Joyce got it all on the page. The novel didn’t make me want to write, though. It made me want to study. And so I did. All the way to a PhD.

The second book that’s changed my life has done so more in a more subtle way. It’s also unwieldy, over the top, and, in places, inscrutible. Yes, my friends, I’m talking about the good, old Bible. One day last year, I realized I haven’t read one of the world’s most important books, so I decided to. Front to back.

I’m only partway through, but I have to say, I have been shocked. The Old Testament is like the world’s best and oldest soap opera. I mean, you have everything a good, sudsy story needs: jealous lovers (and gods), multiple marriages, inheritence problems, sibling rivalry. And the parts with Jesus are just as good. You can’t figure the guy out. One minute he’s the nice guy in flowing robes, and the next he’s telling off his hometown (after they try to throw him off a cliff).

I wouldn’t say I’ve become more religious, or even very religious, but I will say that reading the bible has definitely impacted me as a writer. It’s gotten me back to the root of stories, to the basic elements of narration. It’s taught me the necessity of having a terrific villain and a hero, but that no one is all good or bad, and that a reader sometimes needs some big questions answered in the course of a rollicking tale. It’s taught me how history threads through present moments, the value of a grand gesture, and reminded me about endings.

And finally, I will say this: All books–well, the good ones–should change you a little. Read away!

Bon Vivant

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10 thoughts on “Books That Have You Covered by Deb Tiffany

  1. Tiffany — I am reading THE LITTLE GIANT OF ABERDEEN COUNTY right now and loving it! It is just a wonderful novel and so well written. Thank you!

  2. Thank you, Julie! That’s so nice. And I’m so, so glad you’re enjoying Little Giant. For me, that’s the best thing I could ever hear. It keeps me going! All best to you.

  3. I was just saying to another crop of writer friends that if I had the gift of unlimited reading time, ULYSSES might be one of those books I would finally tackle. I’m currently reading ANNA KARENINA actually, speaking of huge books, and it might take me until June to finish it. I will, though. (I’ve read it before, ages ago.)

    I’ve often thought of reading the Bible cover to cover. If I ever do, I’ll use the King James Version. I know the language is archaic but I like that. I like the poetry of it. A babe wrapped in “bands of cloth” just isn’t the same as swaddling clothes.

  4. I’m reading the New Standard Revised Version, which my totally liberal minister suggested to me. It’s great. The tone is still “biblical,” but the simpler language has illuminated a lot of things for me. I’d read pieces of the bible before, of course, but when you read the whole thing like a book, it really takes on a different quality. Cheers!

  5. Eve, in the bookstore where I work part-time/seasonal…they’re in their own section next to Religion which, interestingly, features books on atheism. They’re both in the neighborhood of metaphysics (angels, astrology, alien crop circles) and philosophy.

    And it’s a popular section of the store because it’s right next to the fireplace where there’s a big cozy couch.

  6. p.s. To be less glib and more serious, I think religious texts are a different animal from fiction/non-fiction, though they don’t get shelved with the novels (though they obviously have elements of narrative and character development as Tiffany pointed out.)

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